Whether it’s back pain, neck pain, or knee pain, most of us have dealt with bodily discomfort from day-to-day life or a workout gone wrong. But often, we overlook our feet and underestimate just how much they endure—from standing all day to running marathons or doing an intense HIIT workout, we put them through a lot. And whether that results in ankle sprains or blisters, foot injuries can sideline you from your workouts in a flash. Let’s look at the most common foot injuries and how to treat them so you can get back on your feet—and back to your workouts.
Why Exercise Can Cause Foot Problems
Your feet are more susceptible to injury than you might think; after all, they bear the weight of your entire body. Made up of bones, tendons, muscles, and ligaments, your feet form intricate connections to your legs and the rest of your body. Podiatrist Dominic Catanese says that minor foot problems that don’t make much difference at other times “suddenly become a very big deal when you begin putting significant stress on your feet, as you do when starting an exercise program.” Whether through overextending yourself, landing wrong on a plyometric move, or running too many miles too soon, your feet can take quite a beating. Here are the most common types of foot injuries, their cause, and recommended treatment. Take care of your feet—they do a lot for you!
Common Foot Injuries And How To Treat Them
Your treatment will depend on the cause, but it’s best to see a doctor if your foot pain is severe and persists after several days. Let’s look at some of the most common types of foot injuries—and their treatments—so you can get back to your workouts pain-free ASAP!
1. Plantar Fasciitis
If you have heel pain that is worse in the morning and gradually improves throughout the day, you might have plantar fasciitis. It can feel like a stabbing or dull pain in the heel or arch of the foot, and is often characterized by its gradual lessening of pain throughout the day. This is no reason to ignore it, however—your plantar fascia is the thick connective tissue that runs from your heel to the base of your toes, and damaging it means pain when walking, jogging, or even standing.
Caused by: A lack of stretching can lead to chronically tight calves and hamstrings—which will make you prone to plantar fasciitis. Any exercise that puts a lot of pressure on the heel can also be the culprit, like dancing or running.
How To Treat: Stretch your lower legs daily and ice your heel for ten minutes a day. Try to stay off your feet and avoid the activity you suspect is to blame for a while until your heel starts to heal!
2. Stress Fracture
A stress fracture might not sound as serious as a broken bone, but it can be just as painful. Stress fractures are technically tiny “cracks” in the bone, and are common in the legs and feet. The affected area usually feels painful and tender.
Caused by: Stress fractures are common among runners who increase their mileage too soon or find themselves “striking” or “landing” improperly; they can also occur in athletes who play on hard surfaces or make a sudden switch to a high intensity workout plan.
How To Treat: For the most part, stress fractures heal on their own with rest. In some cases, wearing a medical boot may be necessary to avoid putting weight on the affected foot.
3. Ankle Sprains
Connected to your feet, your ankle joints are easy to “twist” if you land funny or misjudge a step. But it’s when your ankle becomes swollen and painful afterwards that a true sprain is to be suspected. Ankle sprains occur when the foot rolls outward and the ankle rolls inward, hurting the ligaments on the inside of the ankle. The ankle will generally feel stiff and swollen afterwards.
Caused by: Soccer players can easily sprain their ankles, as can other athletes that use intricate footwork and have to suddenly change direction commonly.
How To Treat: Use the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation.
- Rest the ankle from activity until pain subsides.
- Ice the ankle for 20 minutes every few hours until the swelling subsides
- Compression wraps, like an ACE bandage, will reduce swelling. Wear one for the first few days.
- Elevate your ankle above your heart for a few hours per day to prevent swelling and bruising.
Ah bunions. Just the word itself seems to match the condition’s unpleasant nature, doesn’t it? A bunion is a large bump on the joint at the base of your big toe. The skin over the bunion will sometimes be sore or red.
Caused by: Bunions can be caused by wearing shoes that are too tight, a genetic predisposition, or arthritis.
How To Treat: Finding shoes that are comfortable and do not chafe up against the bunion is critical. If the bunion feels inflamed, apply ice to it. You can also find shoe inserts that help distribute pressure more evenly, reducing your foot pain. Unless your bunion causes severe pain, surgery is usually not recommended.
5. Achilles Tendinitis
Your Achilles tendon is a band of tissue that connects calf muscles to your heel bone. Achilles Tendinitis occurs when this tendon becomes inflamed, causing a mild ache near the back of your lower leg just above your heel. If you’re experiencing pain in this area, you could have Achilles Tendinitis.
Caused by: Tight calves are often the culprit of Achilles Tendinitis. Runners who are running long distances and increasing their mileage quickly can get Achilles Tendinitis, as can tennis or basketball players.
How to Treat: Usually, you can treat Achilles tendonitis at home with ice and rest. Serious cases can lead to tendon ruptures that may require surgery.
6. Turf Toe
Turf Toe occurs when your big toe bends beyond its normal range of motion; the pain is usually worse when you try to manipulate or bend the toe upwards. It is considered a type of sprain, and will usually cause swelling.
Caused by: They call it “Turf Toe” because it often occurs during sports that are played on artificial turf, when your shoe grips to the surface but your body continues to move forward, bending the toe.
How To Treat: Once swelling stops, you can tape your toe to restrict its movement. It’s important to keep the big toe from bending like that again, so you want to keep it steady.
7. Heel Spurs
Heel spurs are a type of bone spur that occurs in the heel. They are essentially “extra bone” that forms on top of normal bone, and they can cause pain if they press up against other bone or tissue.
Caused by: Bone spurs on the feet are often caused by tight ligaments from running, dancing, or jumping. They are also more common in people with flat feet.
How To Treat: Make sure to incorporate more calf stretches into your exercise routine to relieve those tight ligaments; and avoid the offending activity that you think has caused your heel spur until pain subsides.
Easy Tips For General Foot Pain Relief
Keep your feet healthy with these tips to prevent foot injuries and relieve current foot pain at the same time.
Stretch Your Feet
Your feet need just as much love as your legs or arms do—don’t forget about them when you’re warming up and cooling down. Stretch your ankles, open them up using Foot Savers (they help open up your toes if their prone to getting “scrunched” together) and use moves like downward dog that stretch all through your legs AND your feet, to give you a really nice release.
Don’t Overdo It Before You’re Ready
When you’re first starting an exercise regimen, it can be tempting to go “all in,” and think you need to go as fast or hard as possible. But truly, the best way to avoid exercise injuries of ANY kind is to ease into your fitness regimen and gradually increase what you’re doing. Just as you wouldn’t try to lift a barbell three times heavier than one you did last week, don’t ever increase your running mileage by too much too soon!! It’s an easy way to injure your feet and leave you out of commission.
Ice Recent Injuries; Use Heat On Chronic Pain
Typically, ice works best on new injuries (6 weeks or sooner) and heat works better on chronic pain, caused by conditions like arthritis. Since it can be hard to keep an ice pack on your feet, some people use a frozen water bottle and roll it beneath their foot for relief for about 15-20 minutes per day.
Wear The Right Shoes
The right footwear can mean the difference between treating your feet right and putting them through the ringer. Be sure you’re wearing the proper footwear for your workout; running shoes and cross-trainers are different for a reason: to protect the way your foot moves during the activity.